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Landon: No Staples Principal Offer Yet

Published reports to the contrary, Greenwich middle school principal Shelley Somers has not been offered the principal’s job at Staples High School.

According to superintendent of schools Elliott Landon:

“The Greenwich School District sent out a press release a week in advance of the Westport Board of Education decision, with the assumption approval would be made. If the Board did not approve the appointment, the press release would not have been sent.

“Both she and I hope her candidacy is not jeopardized by this communication error.”

Staples seal

Nurse Pam And The 100-Mile Club

Pam Ross was a great Staples field hockey player. After graduating in 1977, she starred at the University of Connecticut.

Today, Pam Ross Maynard is an elementary school nurse. She hasn’t lost her passion for physical fitness. The result: Students at her inner-city school are thriving academically, socially and healthfully.

In 2013, “Nurse Pam” ran a staff-wide “Biggest Loser” weight-loss contest at Elias Brookings Elementary School in Springfield, Massachusetts. A few kids asked to join.

Inspired, Pam discovered the “100 Mile Club.” The national program encourages youngsters to reach 100 miles over the course of a year. Every 15 minutes spent playing, walking or running is worth 1 mile.

So, 3 times a week — from 7:45 to 8:30 a.m. — Pam and the school’s phys. ed. teacher convene the 100 Mile Club.

The results have been “staggering,” according to the video above. Attendance rates soared; academic benefits are clear. Parents have joined the program too, and walk with their children.

Brookings has a few strikes against it. 98% of the students live below the poverty line. In 2011, the school was devastated by a tornado.

But it’s been rebuilt. Now — thanks to Nurse Pam and a few others, all of whom volunteer their time — the children are thriving.

And learning lessons that will last a lifetime, inside the classroom and out.

(Hat tip: Nancy Kondub)

Budgets: 2. Drama: 0.

Something was missing this week, when the RTM considered Westport’s 2 budgets.


On Monday night, the legislative body unanimously approved $79 million in town spending for 2015-16. That’s a 2.51% increase over the current year. Included in the funding: $37,714 previously cut from the Transit District.

Last night, the vote was again unanimous: $111 million for the Board of Education. That’s a cut of $300,000 from what the Board of Finance approved in March; it’s up 1.8% from last year.

RTM members praised Jim Marpe’s administration, the superintendent of schools and  Board of Ed for the care and scrutiny with which they prepared their requests.

Westport sealBudget season in Westport used to be high drama. Proponents claimed that every dollar was sacrosanct to the future of Westport. Opponents shouted that massive cuts were needed to avoid fiscal ruin. Invective would spew. Referendums were threatened (or actually held). Things got ugly.

And the next year, the same thing happened all over again.

Budget season has been quiet for a while now. A couple of elements are at work.

Selectmen, the superintendent and Board of Ed have been prudent and honest in their requests. They’ve worked closely with the Board of Finance to understand what’s realistic — and the Board of Finance has worked hard to understand realistic requests.

All sides have tried to balance the all-important (and very elusive) concept of “quality of Westport life” with the economic realities of the 21st century.

Political posturing has been replaced with true bipartisanship.

Westport Public  SchoolsNo one in Westport threatens a government shutdown. No one wants to sequester funds. No one panders to a special set of constituents or supporters. That’s the way democracy works. Or it’s supposed to, anyway.

We haven’t heard a lot of names of local politicians lately. Many Westporters don’t even know who is chairman of the Board of Finance (John Pincavage) or Board of Ed (Michael Gordon). One is a Republican. The other’s a Democrat. Together, they and their boards govern effectively — and without egos.

The Board of Finance sets the official mill rate 2 weeks from today. A minimal increase is expected from the current 17.94.

Westporters Urge Restoration Of Transit Funds

On Saturday, I posted a plea from a Westporter who can’t drive. He’s looking for help getting to and from the library.

Westport TransitCoincidentally, tonight (7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the RTM votes on whether or not to restore money cut (in a 4-3 vote) by the Board of Finance from the Westport Transit District budget.

The $37,714 would pay for marketing ($20,000) and a professional staffer ($17,714).

Some Westport residents have decried the cuts.

Jim Ross, chair of the Citizen’s Transit Committee, said:

These funds are critical not because of the amount but the formal recognition that transportation issues and policies in Westport requires a dedicated, transit focused support and budget. Congestion, parking, commuting, shopping, pedestrian safety, pollution and so much more affects each of us living and working in Westport.

Westport Transit District bus

For far too long, we have relied on the generous volunteer efforts of well-intentioned but inexperienced and time-constrained citizen-advocates to do the job of a transit professional. They have no administrative budget, no staff support, not even a closet to store the transit budget/operational materials that they pay for out of their own pocket. These funds, requested in the first selectman’s budget, are a small but critical  first step in addressing, in a meaningful and intelligent way, Westport’s long term and 24/7 transportation issues, planning and operations.

Marketing dollars go to printing schedules, train station/social media/ internet/print media advertising, as well as special transit-related events like the transit kiosk at the Senior Center, ridership surveys and the occasional free commuter coffee at the train stations.

Westport transit issues and operations are a 24/7 reality. With the growing impact of Metro-North, I-95, parking/traffic congestion, pedestrian/driver safety, downtown development and air quality — not to mention general town productivity and quality of life — the part-time staff can bring a continuous focus and transportatio -expertise to bear on the challenges. It is simply too big and impactful on our town and citizens to relegate this to well-intentioned citizen-volunteers.

A Westport Transit District bus, at the YMCA.

A Westport Transit District bus, at the YMCA.

Stephen Rockwell Desloge — president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — also weighed in:

One of the 6 primary Planning Directives of the Downtown Master Plan is: Improve Traffic Flow and Parking Management. …

There are currently approximately 1600 retail employees who work downtown. If one assumes that at any one time 40-50% of employees are working per shift, an average of approximately 650-800 employees commute to downtown every day. During peak shopping seasons, this increases to about 1200 employees. The addition of 50,000 square feet of new retail space will increase the number of commuting employees to an average of 1200 daily, with peak season approaching 1800 employees.

Parking is a perennial problem for employees and shoppers in downtown Westport. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Parking is a perennial problem for employees and shoppers in downtown Westport. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The challenge that the town faces is to substantially increase the number of employees who take public transportation and decrease the number of employees who drive downtown every day. Westport has to stay ahead of the curve on this issue…

This effort takes a substantial and sustained long term marketing effort and a dedicated staff person to assure that every possible avenue is being pursued to achieve the goals as set out in the Downtown Master Plan. The WDMA asks that the RTM approves this $37,000 expenditure.

Darcy Sledge added:

I have been a Westport resident for 25 years. My husband and I used the commuter bus for many years. It was an integral part of our decision to settle in Westport. My husband and I both commuted to NYC , and the bus was a way for us to come and go at different times so that we could juggle our family responsibilities.

Now I am a realtor. I can say with experience: The commuter bus has always been a valuable asset to the town of Westport. It is a huge amenity! It affects resale value, not just for a specific house, but for the town — especially given the waiting list for parking sticker.

This is something that the town needs. Please do not cut funding for this important amenity for our working professionals.

Transit is just one of the funding requests the RTM will consider tonight at Town Hall. If you want to be there, the only way is to drive.

Or taxi or Uber.

Next Round Set For RTM/Baron’s South

Earlier this month, the RTM’s P&Z Committee met for 5 hours. Most of the time was spent hearing from 4 petitions against the P&Z’s vote to declare all 22 acres of the Baron’s South property as open space, and 1 in support. The committee also heard from the P&Z and town officials. Public comment began at 11 p.m., and only a few citizens spoke.

Tomorrow (Monday, April 20, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the committee will hear much more public comment. There will also be summations by the P&Z, and the petitioners. Then the committee goes to work, making its recommendation to the full RTM.

On Wednesday (April 22, 9 a.m., Senior Center parking lot), RTM members make a site visit to the property. The public is invited on the 30-minute walk, but is requested to not ask questions or make comments. The time to talk is tomorrow night.

The South Compo entrance to the Baron's South property.

The South Compo entrance to the Baron’s South property.

The following Tuesday (April 28, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the full RTM will decide the Baron’s South issue.

RTM member Matthew Mandell — who provided the above information — has
created a website with relevant information. It’s available to the RTM and the public. Click here — and keep following this important discussion.

Soul Cycle Wheels Into Town

I often try to put a cute little spin on these kinds of stories, but this will have to do:

Soul Cycle logoSoulCycle makes its much-anticipated debut in Westport next Thursday (April 23). If I had a nickel for every time someone mentioned how excited they are about this fitness company coming to Compo Acres Shopping Center, I could buy a Maserati.

Well, maybe a really nice racing bike.

There are complimentary classes all day on Thursday and Friday (April 23 and 24). Call 203-683-7685, or click here starting at noon on Monday (April 20) to book a time.

A grand opening celebration is set for Saturday, April 25.

No word yet on when Chipotle opens next door.

A typical Soul Cycle center.

A typical Soul Cycle center.


Westport Inn: “We’re Here To Stay”

Remember that 5-story, 200-unit housing complex that was going to replace the Westport Inn?

Not gonna happen.

And to prove that the hotel is here to stay, they’re throwing an open house for the town.

Westporters are invited to stop by on Tuesday, April 28 (5-7 p.m.). You can tour the property, enjoy food from Garelick & Herbs and Bistro B, maybe even win a raffle prize.

The Westport Inn is one of those places we often pass by, and seldom think about (unless we’re entertaining in-laws). Why not see for yourself what’s there?

And while you’re at it, think about what might have been.

(So the Inn can get a sense of numbers, please click here to RSVP.)

The Westport Inn began as The New Englander, in 1960. With BLT's purchase for $14.5 million, it will remain a hotel.

The Westport Inn began as The New Englander, in 1960. With BLT’s purchase for $14.5 million, it will remain a hotel.

Green’s Farms Cell Tower: 1-Year Anniversary Looms

Almost exactly a year ago, “06880” broke the story that AT&T was planning to place a 120-foot cell tower at a Greens Farms Road residence. It would loom above the tree line, not far from Hillspoint Road: a “gateway” intersection leading toward our beaches.

In early June, a “balloon test” showed just how high the tower would soar. A band of protesters watched nearby.

Since then: crickets.

In the intervening months, First Selectman Jim Marpe has heard “nothing directly” from North Atlantic Towers, which would build the structure.

However, Marpe warns, “that doesn’t mean it’s going away. Presumably, they’re still interested. A submission to the Connecticut Siting Council could still show up.”

The cell tower was planned for the house on the left: 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

The cell tower was planned for the house on the left: 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Westport has retained a wireless technology consultant, to help if needed. The town is also in contact with major wireless carriers. The idea is to be proactive, not reactive.

Marpe says that State Senator Tony Hwang and State Representative Jonathan Steinberg have been “very helpful.” The legislators have spoken with top-level Connecticut Department of Transportation officials. The DOT controls much of the property near I-95 and the railroad tracks, which could serve as alternative tower sites.

The Greens Farms Road tower is meant to provide better cell service to motorists on I-95 — not necessarily to improve coverage for Westport residents.

A "balloon test" last June showed how high the Greens Farms Road cell tower would be.

A “balloon test” last June showed how high the Greens Farms Road cell tower would be.

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #14

“06880” readers are impressive! It took only a few minutes last Sunday for Jane Nordli and Randy Hammond to identify the photo challenge: a plaque (and nearby sculpture) honoring Jerry Kaiser, at the end of Riverside Avenue by the train station.

(Bonus: We learned all about Jerry, including his role in inviting Martin Luther King to speak at Temple Israel. We found out that the sculpture in his honor is from the frieze at New  York’s old Penn Station. We even heard from Jerry’s nephew, famed journalist Charles Kaiser. To see all that — and the plaque — click here.)

Moving right along, here is this week’s photo challenge — courtesy, as always, from Lynn U. Miller. It’s a view we’ve all seen — a lot. But where?

Oh My 06880 - April 5, 2015 - 2

If you think you know, click “Comments.” May the best (and fastest) man (or woman) win.


This Old House: Identified!

The whole point of “06880”‘s “This Old House” series is to help the Westport Historical Society in advance of an upcoming exhibit. They’ll be showing great photos of old homes, to illustrate changes in Westport. 

But some images — taken as part of a 1930s WPA project — are hard to identify.

House #4 — posted 10 days ago — has been confirmed. It’s the handsome home of Birchwood Country Club, visible from Kings Highway South. The back of the photo said “Allen (Bailin). Riverside Avenue.”

This Old House - March 25, 2015

WHS house historian Bob Weingarten explains the delay in confirmation:

I need to apologize to your readers, especially Marc Isaacs; Jill Turner Odice, who agreed with Marc, and Neil Brickley, who wrote that Marc was correct and  I should re-consider this location.

When I first read Marc’s comments [he said it was originally the Josiah Raymond Inn. and was moved to its present location prior to the 1930’s], I reviewed the Connecticut Historic Resources Inventory. It said the house was built in 1835 by Josiah Raymond. The form identified the location as 25 Kings Highway South, also known as The Birchwood Country Club “Clubhouse.”

The Birchwood Country Club House today.

The Birchwood Country Club House today.

I discounted this as the house for 2 reasons. First, on the back of the WPA 1930s photo the words “Riverside Avenue” appeared and there was no indication from the history that the house was moved.

Second, the photo I had on file was of the front of the house. Although the WPA 1930s photo does show the front, this architectural design was prevalent in houses of the Federal period in Westport.  My mistake was not having a visual view of the side of the building.

After hearing from Neil, I visited the site. With an appropriate photo angle I can visually confirm that the Unknown House #4 is the Birchwood Country Club “Clubhouse.”

Looking at the photo you can see that the front porch does have sidelight windows, the side portion of the building has the same structural elements and windows as identified on the WPA 1930s photo. Too many  elements to be a duplicate built house.

Thanks again to Marc Isaacs, Jill Turner Odice and Neil Brickley.